Pulmonary Function in Workers Exposed to Low Levels of Fuel-Oil Ash

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Previously, we reported significant lung function changes after exposure to fuel-oil ash during a boiler overhaul in which median PM10 and vanadium concentrations were 2.9 mg/m3 and 11.9 μg/m3, respectively. In this study, we examined prospectively 18 boilermakers involved in the short-term, partial overhaul of a large, oil-fired boiler where occupational exposures to PM10 and metals were relatively low. Vanadium and PM10 exposure levels were measured before and during boiler work. For PM10, median exposure before and during boiler work was 0.5 and 0.6 mg/m3, respectively. For vanadium, median exposure before and during boiler work was 1.0 and 12.7 μg/m3, respectively, comparable with the results of our previous study. Spirometric (PFT) testing was done three times: first day on the job (PFT1), end of overhaul (PFT2), and 2 weeks post-overhaul (PFT3). Spirometry results were analyzed using repeated measures analysis of variance. No significant differences were found. Boilermakers working on a short-term overhaul of an oil-fired boiler exhibited no significant change in any lung function parameter comparing pre-, during, and 2 weeks post-exposure. The comparatively low levels of exposure to PM10 and vanadium observed during boiler work, the short duration of the overhaul, and the healthy worker effect are possible explanations for these results.

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